SCOLA MUST BE STOPPED! (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It is a Story of contrast between the Houston Rockets and the Phoenix Suns. The Rockets are in the top 8 of the west - while the Suns look on (with blazing fury and determination) from the outside. The Rockets are injury-stricken for the moment with two of their best players Kyle Lowry (illness) and Kevin Martin (Shoulder) out, the Suns are all healthy and ready to go. The Rockets made moves at the trade deadline trading Jordan Hill to the Lakers for Derek Fisher (who has yet to report to the team), acquiring Marcus Camby (who also has yet to suit up for the Rockets - though he could tonight), and most recently signing Courtney Fortson to a 10-day contract in an attempt to find a backup PG with Lowry out... the Suns did nothing at the deadline - keeping their roster in tact.

And now most importantly - the Suns are riding a hot shooting streak and massive momentum after having just won all 3 games in a back-to-back-to-back set (a feat only accomplished by 3 other teams in the league - Chicago, Miami and OKC) and overall are 8-2 in their last 10 games while the Rockets are struggling with their thin line-up and are only 3-7 in that same stretch.

Can the Suns make it 4 in a row for the first time this season? Can the Suns also break a 4 game losing streak to this Rockets team? Can the Suns break the .500 hump? A win tonight and the Suns could pull to within a half-game of a playoff position. A little more after the jump.

Derek Fisher?

Over at he Dreamshake our friends wonder what will become of the former Laker. They shipped former UofA standout Jordan Hill for him, but he has yet to report to the team. Earlier this week it was reported that the Rockets intended to buy out the veteran PG and were in hot pursuit of Patty Mills who had been playing in China for a year and was just cleared to return to the NBA - but Coach Pop and the Spurs won the bidding war for him and now the Rockets find themselves in a difficult spot at the PG position with Lowry out and no backup.

Goran Dragic has averaged 15.7 points and 9.4 assists and is shooting 52% in 7 games started this season and Houston is 3-2 since Dragic moved to the starting PG spot in the lineup in place of Lowry - so that's nice for them (AND I WON'T HIDE IT - I'm happy for Goran as well. I would really like to see him continue to develop and improve, still one of my favorite players to watch in the NBA). So now with this backup PG problems it seems the Rockets might be rethinking their Derek Fisher buyout - but as insurance they signed former Clipper rookie Courtney Fortson to a 10-day contract.

We'll wait and see what happens to Kobe's best bud.

[Note by Eutychus, 03/18/12 2:11 PM PDT ]

Looks like we have a verdict

Y! Sources: Derek Fisher has reached a buyout agreement with the Houston Rockets. tinyurl.com/7fecwjf

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) March 18, 2012

Beware of the Bench

Last month when these two teams met it was the Houston bench that won the game for the Rockets outscoring the Phoenix bench 57-13 - the team looks a little different after the trade deadline, but Courtney Lee and Chase Budinger and company are still a very real threat though they are probably going to be starting tonight. Despite being thin the Rockets have a lot of firepower and our bench is going to need to come in tonight and continue their hot shooting and good chemistry - but also they need to improve their defense.

The Polish Slump

Don't think I need to go into detail with this one - even the though the Suns conquered the back-to-back-to-back they did it largely in part without the regular contributions of Marcin Gortat. It seems like ever since his Polish Heritage night when Robin Lopez played extended minutes for him at the end of the game Marc hasn't quite been himself. Is it mental? More than likely just going through a slump - we saw Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill and heck even Steve Nash work through rough slumps earlier this year. It's about that time for Marcin to hit the slump bug and smash it as well. It's almost like we just took him for granted - that he'll always provide a double-double, but luckily for us Robin Lopez has answered the call and played extremely well both defensively and offensively during Gortat's slump.

Let's hope his troubles don't last too long and he can get his head back on straight ASAP.

MATCHUPS

PG: Steve Nash - Goran Dragic

SG: Jared Dudley - Courtney Lee

SF: Grant Hill - Chase Budinger

PF: Channing Frye - Luis Scola

C: Marcin Gortat - Samuel Dalembert

The Suns are in the midst of an amazing season turnaround - This game is a crucial one in the playoff hunt since the Rockets are one of the teams in the top 8 that Phoenix is chasing. The players know the importance of this game and they also understand their opponent and what they have been able to do against them. It's time to see what kind of hot-streak this really is, especially in the coming weeks like Alex has pointed out!

LET'S GET IT ON!


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Phoenix Suns 99, Houston Rockets 86 It was not long ago that the Phoenix Suns dropped their fourth straight game to the Los Angeles Lakers to fall a season-worst seven games below .500. That sure...

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Will we see this in May 2012? Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Fortunately, the Suns have taken care of business at home recently to pull their season out of the muck and into 9th place in the West. One final win on this homestand tonight against Houston can pull the Suns within 1/2-game of a playoff spot. Sounds rosy, right?

Unfortunately, the only thing rosy about the subsequent 15 games are the thorns.

Starting Tuesday in Miami, the Suns play 12 of their next 15 on the road with two of their home games against Western powers San Antonio and Los Angeles (Lakers). Ouch. If you look at current records and team strengths, the Suns would be favored to win only 4 of those 15 games.

After the jump, take a look at the Suns' upcoming opponents as well as the schedules of their immediate competition for a playoff spot (including pretty charts).

Suns-sked_medium

*All graphs courtesy of basketball-reference.com

Playing only the odds, the Suns could comfortably be expected to win just 4 of those 15 games (Cavaliers, Hornets, Kings and Jazz). But really, that's even a stretch since only 1 of those games (Hornets) is a home game. The other teams will likely be tanking though, enhancing the Suns' chances for a needed W.

But what of the other 11 games in that 15-game stretch? Which of those can the Suns hope to win? Maybe Orlando, the NBA's best impression of Jekyll and Hyde. Maybe Indiana, who just got smoked by an energized Knicks team twice in a row. Maybe the Timberwolves, sans Rubio. And maybe Houston, who the Suns seem to be able to beat fairly often.

So, if all goes really well, then the Suns might take 7 or 8 wins out of this 15-game stretch. But you can't put those 7 or 8 wins in your back pocket. Just thinking reasonably, the Suns will lose at least 2 of those "winnable" games. To offset those losses, the Suns would have to pull off a couple of upsets against better teams just to come out of this 15-game stretch with a .500 record.

After that, the season closes with 5 of 6 at home, with 4 of those against playoff teams jockeying for final positioning (Thunder, Clippers, Spurs, Nuggets).

A reasonably optimistic final record after the schedule gets a lot tougher? 33-33.

Now the big question: is that enough to make the playoffs?

Here are the current standings...

Current-stndgs-mar18_medium

According to basketball-reference.com, the Suns project only to 31 wins (a 9-13 finish) and an 11% chance to the make the playoffs (behind Houston, Portland, Minnesota and Utah).

Let's take a look at the playoff projections:

Playoff-projections-mar18_medium

As you can see, the Suns project to have the toughest finishing schedule of any team close to them in the standings. Sure the projected record for remaining games is similar (ranging 9 to 12 wins), but 3 games is a huge difference in the standings.

Will Portland AND Utah tank the rest of the season, dropping them out of the hunt? Probably.

Will Minnesota lose more than half their remaining games without Ricky Rubio? Maybe.

But will Houston lose most of their remaining games? That's the big "I dunno". They've been bad recently, despite Dragic "killing it" in the last few, but they picked up Marcus Camby at the deadline and remain, overall, more talented than the Suns.

That's a lot that has to go right for the Suns to make the playoffs, BSotS fans.

What say you? Will the Suns earn the right to play OKC in the first round?

Poll
Will the Suns earn the right to play Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs?

  359 votes | Results


A recent Paul Coro article reinforced the most interesting aspect of the Phoenix Suns’ trade season: the fact that Steve Nash rumors never came close to being a distraction. During the week...

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The Suns are relevant again!

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Last night, the Phoenix Suns took care of business at home by beating the Detroit Pistons who had previously won five of their last seven games. The Suns led early but fell behind in the second quarter, and although the Suns kept it close, the Pistons held onto the lead all the way until the fourth quarter. But the determined Suns just kept pouring it on, hitting clutch shots and getting crucial stops at the end of the game to pull ahead and eventually win the game 109-101.

But this wasn't just any game. No, this game was a milestone of sorts that would prove to the fans, the NBA, and also the team itself that the Phoenix Suns were back. After a disappointing start to the season and plenty of struggles along the way, the Suns have seemed like a different team altogether since the All-Star break, winning eight of their ten games against some tough competition. This was the Suns' third game in just as many nights, and after winning their first two, the Suns were in position to go undefeated over the taxing three-game stretch.

By winning the third game in a row of a brutal back-to-back-to-back stretch, the Suns not only joined the prestigious ranks of the Miami Heat, OKC Thunder, and Chicago Bulls as the only teams to win all three of their consecutive games, they also brought their playoff hopes back to life by earning a record of 22-22 and reaching the .500 mark; an NBA barometer of sorts that separates the wheat from the chaff, or the contenders from the pretenders if you will.

The Suns are now in 9th place in the Western Conference standings, and only two games behind Denver for the 8th and final playoff seed. Even better, the Western Conference is so bunched together that the Suns are also only three games behind the L.A. Clippers for the fourth seed. What once seemed like an impossible long-shot now seems well within reach...The Suns are officially back in the playoff hunt.

The win last night was a total team effort with multiple contributions that helped make a difference. It seems like just yesterday that the only consistency the Suns could count on was from Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat. However, last night nearly every player that stepped on the court found a way to help the team win, and I believe that has been the biggest difference in the recent success of the Suns.

Here are some of the other reasons I believe the Suns were successful against not only the Pistons last night but since the All-Star break as a whole:

Keys To Victory:

  • Jared Dudley is Ballin'! - Dudley started off the season playing inconsistently and missing a lot of open shots. I'm not sure if it was the lockout or what, but he didn't seem like the same energetic, blue-collar player the fans had come to know and love...So much that Alvin Gentry even toyed with the starting lineup, sending Dudley back to the bench briefly in search of a better option. But as the season has progressed, Dudley has returned to form and is playing with tons of energy, hustle, and intensity. Dudley has led the team in scoring in two of the last four games and is shooting lights out from beyond the arc. In last night's game Dudley scored 23 points and also grabbed 7 rebounds. This was a great effort on Dudley's part and he's been one of the biggest reasons for this team's recent success.
  • Channing Frye is Playing Like a Big! - Frye has long had the reputation of being a one-trick pony of sorts in the NBA, an enigmatic 7-foot power forward who only stands behind the arc and shoots three's. Well that;s an awesome weapon for a team to have when the shots are falling, but as Channing quickly learned at the start of the season, when his shot wasn't "juicy", he was more of a liability than an asset. Well Frye has since abandoned his former way of playing and has begun to roam around the paint more often, even looking for opportunities to score inside. But not only that, he is hot on the heels of Marcin Gortat for the title of leading rebounder since the All-Star break. Gortat has 89 rebounds over the last 10 games for an 8.9 average, and Frye has 79 rebounds over the last 10 games for a 7.9 average. Like last night, Frye had an overall poor night of shooting, but his 13 rebounds was a huge help to the team and kept him on the floor long enough for his shot to return in time for a big three near the end of the fourth quarter to help the Suns secure the win.
  • Robin Lopez Has Played Well Off the Bench! - While center Marcin Gortat remains the starter for the Suns and still the most offensively skilled and best rebounding big man on the team, Robin Lopez has been playing very well recently, so well in fact that Alvin Gentry has been leaving him in the game when the starters return to close it out in the fourth quarter over the last three games. Robin's play has been another noticeable improvement since the All-Star break, and though I'm not sure what the reason is, his effectiveness and presence in the paint has been night and day from earlier in the season. When Gortat goes to the bench Lopez has stepped up and provided quality minutes lately, and having a very capable big man patrolling the paint at all times is a huge advantage for the Suns.
  • Shannon Brown has made a difference! - At first many Suns fans cringed when they saw Shannon Brown enter the games as he often jacked up bad shots and played out of control, and while he still does both of those things at times, his play as of late has been much more efficient and productive, and the excitement he brings with his big shots and huge dunks spark the electric atmosphere surrounding the fans and his teammates alike. Brown has come on strong as one of the most consistent reserves for the Suns this season, and his energy has been contagious.
  • Defense! - Elston Turner has done wonders with implementing defense and rebounding into this team and incorporating it into the fast paced offense that the Suns like to employ. There have been plenty of growing pains along the way, but there definitely seems to be a good balance of both offense and defense now, and a new commitment to rebounding that all of the players seem to have bought into. With Gentry directing the offense back to their ways of scoring over 100 per game, and Turner keeping the Suns committed at the other end of the floor, the Suns seem like a much more complete team now, and I believe this is a big factor for their recent success.
  • Alvin Gentry is Adjusting! - While most Suns' fans realize that Gentry is the type of coach who likes to go deep into his bench, some may not realize his method of substituting starters and reserves as an entire unit, rather than relieving individual players one at a time and mixing the units together, has caused our second unit to suffer at times and lose the leads that the starters had built. Gentry has recently begun mixing the lineups up a bit more often to lessen the blow of pulling all the starters off the floor at the same time. For instance, he tried substituting the bench in for the starters as a unit in the second quarter last night and the Suns quickly fell behind. Near the end of the third quarter, he slowly substituted a few players at a time instead, and it worked much better. Gentry has also been playing with the lineups and looking for the right mix of players, and while this remains in flux, he seems to have found a winning formula recently and it's really starting to pay off.

Summary:

As long as the Suns continue to play hard as a team and the individual players continue to work hard at improving their games, I see no reason why this team can't continue it's winning ways. I never would have thought the Suns would be in this position after such a rough start to the season, but they have fought very hard to prove that they can be a winning team who can compete with anyone when they are playing well together. Their 8-2 record since the All-Star break is among one of the best in the league, and the rest of the NBA is beginning to take notice. The Suns may not have the flashiest players, or an owner with the deepest pockets, but they do have a real team atmosphere they've built together headed by two ageless vets who also happen to be two of the finest, classiest ambassadors of the game that the league has ever known. I believe their influence, along with the overall attitude and climate of the organization, has done wonders for bringing these players together and helping each and every one of them truly buy into this team's philosophy and the belief that they can win.


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